Atmosphere of 'fear and foreboding' under Modi: Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi: A combative Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday attacked the Narendra Modi government, accusing it of engaging in a 'dangerous duplicitous game' by allowing his colleagues to create an atmosphere of 'fear and foreboding' by fomenting 'communal polarisation'.

She also charged the government with making 'systematic attempts' to dismantle edifice of the welfare state and asked party-men to 'strongly oppose' its moves on the land bill and food security law. "One one hand, the Prime Minister wants to project himself as the great champion of good governance and Constitutional values while on the other he allows many of his colleagues to make vile statements and foment communal polarisation. "This has already damaged our secular fabric. An atmosphere of fear and foreboding has been deliberately created," she said in her inaugural address to a day-long conference of Congress chief ministers, the first after the party's worst debacle in Lok Sabha polls last year.

Atmosphere of 'fear and foreboding' under Modi: Sonia GandhiCongress President Sonia Gandhi with party Vice President Rahul Gandhi at the Congress Chief Ministers conference at party headquarters in New Delhi on Tuesday. Pic/PTI

"There is another aspect of both substance and style that I should mention and this relates to a dangerous duplicitous game that is being played out. "In terms of substance, there are systematic attempts being made to dismantle the edifice of the welfare state built up over the decades by successive Congress governments", she said.

Sonia attacked Modi over 'unprecedented entralisation' of power and said both 'the substance and style' of government were a cause of 'great concern'. "Unprecedented centralisation of power and authority, the deliberate by-passing of Parliamentary procedures and practices, threats to civil society and warnings to the judiciary marked the Modi rule," she said targeting the Prime Minister.

"The new government took over at the Centre a little over a year ago. Both its substance and style are now all too evident. Both are cause of great concern. They raise many disturbing questions. They should make us pause, reflect and give an appropriate response," she told the conclave.

Gandhi told the gathering about the Prime Minister's 'turnabouts' like on the 2013 land acquisition law and on the National Food Security Act, saying 'he has to be strongly opposed.' She said it is alarming that the coverage under the National Food Security Act is proposed to be reduced from 67% to 40% and the entire system of food procurement including MSP is 'under assault.'

Gandhi expressed concern over budgetary allocations being slashed in key areas like education, health, drinking water and sanitation, rural roads and livelihood, women and child development and welfare of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. "This is clearly part of a new philosophy which abdicates the essential role of the Central government in social and human development and in strengthening local self-government institutions in rural and urban India", she said.

The Congress president asked party chief ministers to work with the Centre for serving the interest of their states, but also told them to engage in agitations when it works against public interest. She also put the onus on the Centre for creating and maintaining an atmosphere conducive for cooperation and consenus.

"As Chief Ministers you must work with the Centre in the best interests of your state even as you express your views frankly. But at the same time we as Congressmen and women have to confront the Modi government and engage in agitations against it when it works against public interest," she said. "Each Chief Minister faces different challenges. You would undoubtedly be interacting with the Central government in this regard. But today, we are meeting as a collective forum to formulate a common position in key areas in keeping with our party's priorities and policies," Sonia said.

Asserting that the legacy of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru is now under 'sustained assault' by forces that guide the ruling establishment, the Congress president said abolition of the Planning Commission by the new dispendation was a 'grevious' blow to 11 special category states.

"Eleven states especially - of whom seven are represented here today have been dealt a grievous blow by the abolition of the Planning Commission and of the grouping called special category states," Gandhi said. She said in the the guise of giving more untied funds to states, the Centre has ended up imposing additional burdens on all of them, but on the other hand has given huge tax cut for the corporates.

"New fiscal architecture is all very well but at what cost and whose cost needs to be examined carefully. And what is the justification for giving huge tax cut bonanzas to the corporate sector while drastically cutting public expenditures for vital social sector programmes?" The Congress president also criticised Modi for breaking away from the tradition and taking domestic politics to audience abroad.

"Boastful claims, exaggerations and downright falsehoods characterise most of his (Modi's) statements. His election promises are now being dismissed, in the words of one of his own key colleagues, as chunavi jumlas," the Congress president said, referring to BJP chief Amit Shah's remarks on black money. Shah had said Modi's statements during the Lok Sabha election campaign that Rs 15 lakh will be deposited in the bank accounts of all Indians once the black money is recovered was a political 'jumla' (idiom).

Gandhi asked the chief ministers to 'counter' the assault on Nehru's legacy by organising appropriate programmes commemorating his birth anniversary in the coming months. She also accused the government for taking U-turns on a range of issues like the GST and UID. "On a number of important issues the Prime Minister has made a U-turn on his earlier positions. On some, like the GST and UID, he seems to have discovered their virtues. But on other turnabouts, like on the 2013 land acquisition law and on the National Food Security Act, he has to be strongly opposed," she said.

Ahead of elections in some states next year, Gandhi said it was important to not only tell people about the Centre diluting the "pro-poor" policies started by the UPA, but also inform them about the implementation of state-level manifestos by Congress governments. "We should also spend some time talking about implementation of the state-level manifestos. How far have we been able to fulfill the pledges we made and what are the important unfinished tasks? Do we need the Centre's assistance and cooperation in this regard and, if we do, what should be our approach?

"I have been told by some of you that many key areas like rural roads for instance have been badly hit because of cuts in budgetary allocations. How do we deal with such situations?" she said. After the setback in Lok Sabha polls, Gandhi said the party needs to vastly improve communication and marketing skills. She also emphasized on greater cooperation between the party and state administration. "We can have great accomplishments but they have to reach the people. The party organisation of course is the primary instrument for such dissemination and propagation. "As Chief Ministers you have a special responsibility to ensure that party workers are motivated and enthused to become champions of the achievements of the governments you run," Gandhi said.

On the 125th birth anniversary celebration of dalit icon Babasaheb Ambedkar, Gandhi said the best tribute the party can pay him is by ensuring each Congress-ruled state gives statutory status to implementing the scheduled caste plan and tribal sub-plan. "Our UPA government had finalised legislation in this regard. Our states should now take it forward," Gandhi added.

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